Solo Dan by Teena Raffa-Mulligan and illustrated by Kym Langfield is a real surprise of a book. I was not sure what the story would be when I first read this gently portrayed account of a child’s journey towards family inclusion. Initially, I thought I would be reading about a child who needs their own space and was a loner, but then BAM just when I believed Dan was your typical introvert who liked a bit of space I get a jolt and discover that Dan is a child who has lived in foster homes and dearly wants to belong and to have his own family.
Wow! Big impact, big feeling, and all of a sudden rush of personal memories as I remember my own childhood and the babies my own parents would look after as part of a fostering organistion. Tiny newborns, and some a little older. I remember playing with them and helping my mother bathe them and spend time with my Dad singing the ‘Train’ song as I helped him feed these tiny babies with little rubber spoons.
I asked my Mum about these scraps of memories from my pre-school days and she told me about the fostering she and Dad had done when my siblings and I were little more than babies ourselves. She told me of how they were so happy about being parents themselves and what a fulfilling time that was for them. She went to say that when they heard of children needing a safe haven, they knew immediately that this was something they wanted to do – to offer a home, a pair of cradling arms, and a safe environment for these vulnerable children. She told me how much she loved each and every little child and about some of the stories of sad circumstances and tragedy that had led the young and often frightened and only mothers to hand the babies over to be cared for by another.
The fact that Solo Dan has an insight into why his mother had needed to find someone else to help look after him is so impressionable. The reader gets the feeling that although alone, seeking his own family, Dan knows himself and has resilience and inner strength that will carry him forward positively to the next, more secure stage of his childhood. We are not fed the fairy tales of Grimm-like proportions about unhappiness in a foster situation nor are we expected to believe all is plain sailing. Never-the-less, Dan is the hero of his own story and rises up to claim his family and belong.
Solo Dan makes a very moving account about the experience of finding a new family from the perspective of a young foster boy and be reminded of the complexity and sense of aloneness that not having a family has on a person.
With simple and soft illustrations highlighting family life set against the sense of exclusion felt by Dan until he finds his own family, the reader can get up close and personal with this sensitive topic in a genuine and heartfelt way. The narrative is stripped of sentimentality as the young protagonist defines his world as he wishes us as readers to understand it.
The walls of self-protection Dan builds by his rejection of any need for others mask his inner voice – one crying out for love, inclusion, and his very own family.
For a resource to help platform discussions around the concepts of adoption and belonging Solo Dan is an accessible and helpful tool. Readers will readily identify with family life as depicted by Kym Langfield and find themselves reflecting on how it is to be without a family and how vital it is for every child to have a family to call their own.
I recommend this book as a resource for schools and childcare centres as a simple and effective way into conversations with younger children about the topic of adoption and fostering. Big thanks to the marvellous team at Books On Tour for the opportunity to review this unique story.